Candid Photography: Definition, Tips, Examples

Many consider Candid Photography a synonym for Street Photography. But I believe that Candid Photography goes even further and offers a much larger scope and way of producing authentic, great candid photos. With this in mind, my personal approach to being candid will give you a better understanding of its role in photography.

Candid Photography: Definition, Tips, Examples

A candid approach can be used with different genres such as wedding photography, street photography, portrait photography, and, my favorite, travel photography. And being candid while traveling is far more complex than being candid locally. Why? It is easy for people to spot foreigners. 

In this post, I’ll address critical issues like social skills and ethics that will better guide you in traveling effortlessly while remaining as candid as possible. Also, remember always to research public laws and regulations of the countries you plan to visit, as they may have restrictions that prohibit photography in certain places or situations. I will also share my favorite candid photography tips and examples of candid photography.

What is Candid Photography?

Candid photography is a style of photography that captures people in natural, unposed situations. It focuses on capturing the subject’s genuine emotions and expressions without staging or posing. Candid photos are usually taken without the subject’s knowledge, making them more natural and authentic.

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Importance of Candid Photography

The essential value of Candid Photography is that you can naturally document both ordinary and extraordinary scenes of society. So, if we are in the pursuit of capturing things without being noticed, further developing our candid skills will take our photography to an even greater and more satisfying level.

Thanks to modern technology, we can capture images in a fraction of a second, which means that photographing something in its most natural form is now more attainable. When photographing the streets and telling the true stories of our subject is our primary goal, candid is the most objective approach to photography as even the slightest crop can alter an image and change its story completely.

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Candid Photography and Social Skills

Candid photography is not solely about blending in with surroundings to become invisible to capture a subject in its natural environment. It is also about getting closer to people and showing a new level of comfort that welcomes them to be themselves. 

This is where social skills come into play. 

Instead of simply shooting from a voyeuristic distance, socializing with your subjects allows you to do things in a different rhythm and with a much slower approach. The key is to get people accustomed to your presence; then, candid images start to bloom.

Use a common language or slang to add comfort if you’re familiar with the area. This trick has saved me countless times because, although people easily recognize outsiders, they slowly let their guards down little by little if you share a common language. 

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Now you know my survival tactic on the streets of my own country. It’s awesome.

Also, show care and compassion to people as you approach them. Listen to their stories, ask relevant questions, and ensure the time you spend with them is quality time, whether it’s 5 or 15 minutes. Keep that same care in consideration as you compose your images. 

For example, when photographing homeless people or children, avoid photographing them from a high angle or point of view, as this makes them appear more vulnerable than they actually are. 

A low-angle candid shot portrays them in a stronger, more humane way.

In most cases, people will ask why you are interested in taking their pictures. Be honest and show them your passion for candidly capturing the streets to help them better understand.

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My Top Candid Photography Tips

Don’t Give Yourself Away

If you react with apparent movements, you will easily be spotted. Try to be smooth and fluid when bringing your camera to your eye. Shooting directly from the viewfinder is fantastic, but we tend to overexcite when we move our camera from its walking or resting place to our eyes. This minor yet frantic and sloppy movement often draws unwanted attention.

I’ve also often been on the other side of candid street photography. When I see the camera pointing in my direction while walking along the streets, rather than complain, I think of it as the price I have to pay—like karma or Newton’s third law. 

With that being said, any movement is obvious, so we can all work to practice being stealthier in bringing our cameras to our eyes to achieve more candid frames.

Also, try to avoid eye contact when shooting candidly. Eye staring has tremendous power that others can feel. Do your best to avoid making eye contact while taking the shots because your image will not be 100% candid.

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Many photographers recall how Walker Evans painted the chrome parts of his camera in matte black and then hid it under his overcoat to be even stealthier and more inconspicuous when shooting his subjects riding public transportation. 

Maybe this technique was a bit too voyeuristic, but no one can deny that he did a great job while photographing ordinary people traveling on the subway.

Shoot From the Hip

Shooting from the hip requires a lot of practice. When rehearsing this maneuver, it is vital to commit to one lens. Knowing the exact amount of the scene that fits in your lens takes an incredible amount of practice. If you frequently interchange lenses, you will only get frustrated as you try and master this valuable technique.

Use Your LCD Instead of a Viewfinder

I don’t particularly like using live-view modes when shooting from eye level, but it is a great friend of mine when shooting from odd angles, especially if you can tilt the LCD screen.

Acting as Part of Candid Photography

Another great tactic is to act as though you are looking through or checking pictures on your camera. People only tend to realize that you are taking pictures of them when you bring the camera to your eyes.

The best acting trick is pretending to shoot something in the distance beyond your intended subjects. It can be really handy when shooting through the viewfinder. My current camera doesn’t have an LCD screen that tilts, so this tactic is the one that I use the most.

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Right Gear for Candid Photography

Gear, gear, gear! The primary worry of our generation of photographers is gear! The truth is that all you need is a trusty piece (or pieces) of equipment that you feel comfortable using and carrying with you at every moment of every day.

Here is a little more about my background in digital gear. As a beginning photographer, I started with a small point-and-shoot camera. After being robbed while taking street photos, I purchased an entry-level DSLR. 

My favorite DSLR lenses for candid street photography are my 28mm and two pancakes I purchased at the end of my lens-buying rush—a 40mm and a 24mm. Occasionally, I shoot with a wide-angle 10-20mm zoom lens. 

I never use telephoto lenses to take candid photos because I believe that with the telephoto lens, you lose valuable intimacy component

Eventually, I got back into small gear and purchased another point-and-shoot camera as I ventured away from commercial work to focus more on street photography. 

After two years, I purchased the first “Digital Rangefinder[1]” camera.

Why is gear so important? Because it is the tool that allows you to capture your vision. My passion for street photography has driven my gear purchases, and after a few years, I realized that small and inconspicuous gear works best for me.

Whatever your passion, don’t let yourself be driven by gear innovations or brands. Choose your companion gear by listening to your passion instead of the market.

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Patience is s Friend of Candid Street Photography

Another key to excelling at Candid Photography is always to be patient. In general, Candid Photography offers you very little control over anything, especially when it comes to lighting and pose. For example, in Street Photography, one can walk the streets for hours, taking only a few pictures or absolutely none. This happens when we are in pursuit of something specific, a special moment, or a meaningful story. Capturing this requires high levels of patience and discipline. It does not, however, mean that you must lower your guard. You never know when the moment of your life will burst in front of your eyes, so you must always be prepared.

Blend in

Blending in with the crowd is crucial for capturing candid images. Much like it is out of the ordinary to dress in bright, bold colors during the winter in Paris or to wear an overcoat at a California beach in the middle of summer, blending involves more than just your clothes. From how you walk and carry yourself to your mannerisms, it is important to be smooth and avoid giving away as a tourist on your travels.

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Separation from Vernacular

Candid photography goes beyond vernacular photography, which is more oriented toward domestic purposes such as newspaper publicity. The real difference between Candid Photography and the natural vernacular is the aesthetics a photographer can achieve by considering various composition and exposure techniques.

Show Respect to Your Subjects

Respect everyone you encounter in front of your lens. Whether they are friends, acquaintances, or strangers, respect each person who stands in front of your shutter eye. The voice of the image is extremely important, and when things are done without respect, it is often reflected in your photos.

Cultures and religions also deserve respect. It doesn’t matter if you are an open-minded traveler in a conservative country or vice versa; you must always respect the culture, the religion, and the people.

Social photography is likely not your strongest suit if you can’t show respect to your surroundings or those around you. 

I only tell you this because a lack of respect will negatively impact your ability to blend in and hinder your social skills, which are necessary for interacting with others. Physical language speaks volumes more than verbal language, so the next time a foreign culture surrounds you, show the utmost respect. You will see firsthand that things will flow better, and, as a result, you will capture more powerful candid photographs.

Niches that Glorify with Candid Approach

As I mentioned, Candid Photography is more of an approach with a larger span than the general, more simplified photography genre. The two niches that I think earn a more considerable benefit from Candid Photography are, without a doubt, Street Photography and Photojournalism. This is because these two genres cope better with natural and ordinary happenings.

Ethics and Candid Photography

Please, don’t make Street Photographers or other photographers look bad. Don’t be rude to people if they ask you to delete their pictures. Even though you feel you have a right to capture candid moments in a public space, some people don’t like to be photographed by a stranger with a camera. If they ask you to delete the image, please do it. 

Also, if you’re only taking photos to spy on someone or you find yourself having to run after taking someone’s photo, you might find a new hobby because that is not cool.

Camera Settings for Candid Photography

When taking candid photos, the best camera settings to use are a fast shutter speed (1/500 or higher), wide aperture (f/2.8 or lower), and low ISO (100-400). This combination will help you capture sharp images with minimal blur and noise. In low light conditions, to increase the depth of field, you will need to boost ISO settings and use narrower aperture.

Additionally, it is important to keep your camera in burst mode so you can capture multiple shots of the same scene.

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A little anecdote about my twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera

Last month I bought a secondhand, near-mint condition Yashica Mat 124G and, just recently, had the opportunity to try it out for the first time. In my country, November 2nd is the Day of the Dead, when people traditionally go to the cemeteries to mourn their loved ones.

I woke up early, loaded my Yashica with film, and ventured to one of the local public cemeteries. I knew that I was entering a fragile ecosystem filled with mourning people and was aware that I could get a few insults if I didn’t approach people with the utmost respect.

The thing is, this camera is so obvious that people didn’t even react to it. I placed it over some concrete structures, figured out my camera settings (aperture, shutter speed) with my smartphone app, focused the camera, composed, and took the pictures.

To my complete surprise, all of the images were completely candid, not to mention I got away insult free.

Some people like to do portraits of strangers and are, believe it or not, incredibly comfortable approaching strangers and convincing them to pose in front of the camera. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with portraits of people on the streets, but we reduced this article to reflect plain, candid approaches in photography. 

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The real magic of candid photography is when you see an image and are unsure if it was posed or not.

I invite you to push yourselves to the limits to capture completely natural and close images that tell meaningful stories of people and places. It is not the same as walking around in a crowd with your camera on your hip and shooting like crazy. Seek beautiful, unique, compelling, and meaningful moments inside or outside these crowds. Always have your camera with you and prepare to shoot so that those incredible and breathtaking moments will have a hard time escaping your eye.

Examples of Candid Photography

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Candid Photography | Conclusion

In sum, Candid is an approach to photography. Therefore it spans a broader scope than just a genre inside Street Photography or Photojournalism. Candid is a way of getting involved with societies and crowds to capture meaningful stories that otherwise will remain unseen. 

Candid photography is about being inconspicuous, stealthy, respectful, and socially skilled to get close to the intimate and ordinary moments of people’s lives and capture them in the most natural and purest way.

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by Federico Alegria
Federico is a professional photographer from El Salvador. Check out his work on his website.

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